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MacKenzie Friend or Foe

(44 Posts)
babybarrister Thu 28-Mar-13 10:20:59

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

lostdad Thu 28-Mar-13 11:09:06

Having used and dealt with solicitors both as someone with a case in the family courts and as a McKenzie Friend it would be very fair to say that for all the talk of qualifications, regulation and assurance that using a the `services' of a `legal professional' entails there is no guarantee either that you will feel you have been well served.

For example - you may believe that membership of Resolution by a lawyer would help. In the history of the existence of that body not one complaint made by clients has ever resulted in any action taken against a lawyer. If a client makes a complaint to the Legal Services Commission you will, as a matter of course not be informed of the progress or any decisions made as a result. Should you choose to pursue your former legal representation through the courts you have a choice of either hiring another lawyer or representing yourself. Bear in mind that such a client is liable to be financially destitute as a result of a long case and many of the complaints are a result of overcharging and poor service.

In my work as a McKenzie Friend I am finding that legal professionals are getting more and more aggressive, particularly towards litigants and person as well as their McKenzie Friend if they use one. Speaking to friends who are legal professionals they tell me that there is an extreme worry that the changes in legal aid will put many out of business and they expect McKenzie Friends to take up a lot of the work that lawyers formerly did. Things are so bad that in many of the parts of the country, they are talking about industrial action:

Although these regulated and insured legal professionals are supposed to assist litigants in person (with or without McKenzie Friends)

it is extremely common for attempts to bully, mislead and even lie to them to `win' the case for their own clients. I often receive calls from people who are extremely worried only to reassure them there is nothing to worry about.

Often people will contact us after they have exhausted their funds paying a lawyer and we will help them straighten things out. It is typical to find procedures ignored, paperwork not completed and a complete lack of initiative and case management on the part of someone who is being paid in excess of £170 an hour. People are often shocked when they realise how poorly they are assisted and it is common to be told `I've made more progress in the last hearing than I did in the last year with my solicitor'.

Of course - it's unsurprising that solicitors and barristers would be so hostile to anyone they consider taking their business away from them. Many firms are liable to close and many lawyers are becoming McKenzie Friends as competition for funded clients rapidly falls away.

I would advise anyone who would like assistance in court (with a solicitor, barrister, McKenzie Friend, whatever) to ask them about their experience, qualifications and background. Ask for references too if you like.

Finally...I've am fully insured and most of my fellow McKenzie Friends are too!

RedHelenB Thu 28-Mar-13 13:03:22

Thing is babybarrister if you have very little money you have very little choice. I was lucky to get legal aid funding but there was no going to court costs - the consent order agreed without the need for court. Friend of mine with very similar circumstances ended up with over £15,000 secured on her property due to having to go to court again to get an order for the transfer of the house & she too was on legal aid.

MOSagain Thu 28-Mar-13 15:51:54

Thing is, if you want PROPER legal advice from a trained and qualified professional, you should not be paying for advice from an unqualified person/MF, many of whom have no legal training/background.

Spending £15,000 could well be a good deal if you retain/acquire significant property or assets compared to paying £1,500 to an unqualified MF who gives poor advice which ultimately results in you losing significantly more.

<puts on tin hat, folds out campbed and opens popcorn>

RedHelenB Thu 28-Mar-13 16:48:50

LOL MOS we are not talking multi millions but it was qualified barristers /sols that ballsed it up first time round hence needing to go to court again!

Thing is, if you don't have the cash you don't have the cash & I bet a lot of people may not end up with as good a settlement as they might have before the end of legal aid. I suppose sols will wantmoney up front not as a charge on a property like you'd get with legal aid!

RedHelenB Thu 28-Mar-13 16:52:25

That's the way of the world though, teaching assistants taking classes, nurses prescribing etc etc. Suppose law is going the same way!

Collaborate Thu 28-Mar-13 16:58:41

The only cases in which I have personally encountered MFs has lead me to be concerned. In these cases the MF had a poor grasp of the law and procedure, and encouraged the litigant to take steps that caused harm to their case. Well meaning but ultimately damaging.
Better to pay what little you have to get proper advice rather than poor representation for a few more weeks.

Not everyone can afford a new car, but we have legislation in place to ensure cars are safe. It's the same for legal services. Would you pay me for medical advice? No. But why would anyone pay a MF for legal advice when they lack the qualifications?

3xcookedchips Sun 31-Mar-13 10:56:24

Hi Collaborate,

I always follow your posts with interest because they are the voice of reason and realism and respect what you do on here.

However, have you ever been a litigant in the family courts?

I have. I have used an MF, who offered his services for free. This got me started. He has been helping parents for nearly 25 years and is well known and respected within the Family courts in his area. So much so one judge allowed him rights of representation.

I since moved to the services of a solicitor and a barrister because I could afford it. A lot of people can't. When you're up against a Legally aided LIP and you yourself arent eligible and yet cant afford representation an MF is the last line of defence against a usually very hostile party.

I am now going to dispense with the services of my solicitor because I no longer feel they are providing any value. From my last invoice a lot of what they have done is a lot of paper shuffling and the case management is not really out of the realms of my own capabilities.I feel they have provided a level of indirection between me and my barrister who really is my representation. I have grown weary of their repeated reply 'Well, I wasnt in court so I cant really comment...'

I understand why you would want to defend the service a solicitor provides but there are alternatives.

There are bad MFs there are also very good ones.

In the same way there are good solicitors and also very bad ones.


Collaborate Sun 31-Mar-13 14:32:07

The point is that we can't have anyone deciding to set themselves up as providing a professional service (especially not making a profit from it as well) unless they have undergone specific training, education, and have insurance, and are regulated.

I can't decide one morning I want to be an architect, so I'll put an advert in the paper offering to design extensions for people, or that I fancy offering medical advice or accountancy services.

Sometimes MFs can be helpful but when they think they have what it takes to offer advice just because they've been through it themselves and have got involved in a few other people's divorces then I think it poses a real danger to the public, who are being conned.

babybarrister Sun 31-Mar-13 16:05:00

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Collaborate Sun 31-Mar-13 19:15:40

The Merseyside Family Justice Council has recently published some good guidance for self-represented litigants. It's here:

Worth a read. It also gives guidance on MFs.

3xcookedchips Sun 31-Mar-13 21:19:53

I know MFs who have seeon more of the inside of a court room than some family law solicitors.

What you havent been able to square is how expensive it is for people on low incomes or very little means to get good, reliable representation.

Would you rather these people go in there alone? Some opposing solicitors barristers relish this scenario becuase even the most capable people outside of a court can get tied up in knots.

Nobody should ever go to court alone.

The fact of the matter is Family Law litigation is very expensive if you were so worried about LIPs then you should be working to bring it within the reach of the ordinary parent who are simply trying to do well by their children.

STIDW Sun 31-Mar-13 22:34:36

Yes lawyers are expensive but legal firms have some of the biggest overheads of all businesses. First of all there are the premises, rates, staff, IT equipment, year on year professional training and insurance I believe is typically a third of the fees they charge. If you look at the recruitment columns the average high street family solicitor earns between £27k-£40k which isn't that much for someone who has studied law for 3 or 4 years, completed another couple of years' training on the job and further training year in year out. There are far more lucrative specialisms to work in.

Sadly some people can't afford representation and the danger is being conned and/or grievances being ratcheted up by someone who has their own axe to grind.

Collaborate Sun 31-Mar-13 23:02:57

I've seen plenty of football matches. Doesn't qualify me to be a football manager.

I've watched casualty a few times. Can I be a doctor too?

babybarrister Mon 01-Apr-13 08:55:16

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Collaborate Mon 01-Apr-13 09:55:26

I recall starting a thread on this subject around a year ago highlighting the proposals. Absolutely no interest at all. I shall try and find it...

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Mon 01-Apr-13 09:59:11

This is very interesting, thank you BB.

babybarrister Tue 02-Apr-13 17:32:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

JackieFamilyLaw Wed 03-Apr-13 14:19:34

In my opinion it is a sweeping statement to say that McKenzie Friends "are not qualified lawyers although there may be a few struck off lawyers, not fully trained, probably not insured and certainly not regulated!" There is no guarantee that you are going to get an excellent service because someone is a solicitor/barrister and they are heavily regulated, insured and qualified! Some of today's solicitors have become more like salespeople with unrealistic targets that they are expected to achieve, what pressure does that put them under when dealing with a case and balancing clients interests with hitting targets. As someone who has worked as a family lawyer within a high street practice for years dealing with complex financial/contact cases and I am legally qualified, I do feel I have something to offer clients who cannot afford or choose not to use a solicitor. I walked away from being a high street family lawyer because I wanted to provide a personal/cost effective service for LiP's and I am glad that I did. I successfully work alongside barristers, mediators, solicitors, counsellors to ensure my clients who are LiP's get the expert advice they need whilst doing as much of the work as they can themselves. Oh and I am insured, have been recommended as an affiliate member of Resolution and am a member of the IOP so abide by their code of conduct. I would welcome paralegal's like myself being regulated because its a shame if we all get a bad name because of a few bad 'apples'. What I find most disappointing is that many people within the legal services industry are very protective regarding the work they do and criticise others unnecessarily in order to justify their own services. It's a shame we can't work together to provide a range of services that clients want in a way they want them.

babybarrister Wed 03-Apr-13 20:26:08

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

babybarrister Wed 03-Apr-13 20:31:33

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

lostdad Thu 04-Apr-13 13:47:00

3xcookedchips is on the money.

There are good and bad everywhere - when it comes to barristers, solicitors and McKenzie Friends. Any of these who are good can be worth their weight in gold. Any of these who are bad can utterly wreck a case.

I've seen examples of both types.

Both my partner and myself (she is a qualified paralegal incidentally) have been thanked on numerous occasions by the court and lawyers for our assistance in court - reassuring people, advising them of their options and drawing up orders and assisting with paperwork for courts.

I've also seen (again on numerous occasions) lawyers criticised by judges for failing to follow practice directions and be clearly ignorant of the law - their legal qualifications, insurance and faith in regulation (sometimes evidenced by the `Resolution' logo on their letterhead) apparently counting for very little - clearly to the detriment of their client's case.

As I have stated before: Anyone wishing to engage a solicitor, barrister or McKenzie friend should ask for a CV, references and speak to them before handing over any money. I know many people who have engaged and then sacked lawyers failing to act under instruction (or often act at all) and are more than happy to fire letters back and forth indefinitely with no evidence of case management or an attempt to resolve the matter in hand.

A big office, a nice letter head, insurance and regulation mean absolutely nothing as the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

babybarrister Thu 04-Apr-13 21:33:43

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

3xcookedchips Fri 05-Apr-13 00:18:50

What does a parent do who hasnt seen their kids for 6 months because of a hostile ex and yet doesnt have the means to afford professional legal representation?

The legals on this thread donet seem to appreciate what parents on low incomes are up against.

ladymuckbeth Fri 05-Apr-13 09:22:41

I am fascinated by this discussion, peering in from the outside as I am - someone who can barely afford legal representation and is currently reading up on my options for what lies ahead. I've borrowed £1500 from friends to get me started on the divorce process and after that will have to get divorce loans if my STBXH doesn't help with legal bills.

My case is proving rather complicated and acrimonious, and my lawyer has already refused to do work for me on a fixed fee basis. I can't say I blame her! I am trying to do as much of the work myself as I can in order to keep costs down, but agree that for many people on low incomes, the legal system really is about to implode with the withdrawal of legal aid for most cases. Something is going to have to take the place of lawyers in those cases where they can't be afforded, and perhaps in time the role of the McKenzie Friend will have to be more regulated and more insured as it assumes a greater position due to necessity.

Do all McKenzie Friends charge for their services?

Babybarrister - thanks for posting that Bar Council guide; so useful and I had a bit of a read last night.

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